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Heat's championship promises nothing without playoff wins

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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MIAMI -- The Miami Heat might yet prove themselves the best team in the NBA, but there's little argument they are already the most compelling one.

And now, with the playoffs set to begin, things should get even more, um, interesting.

It doesn't take much scrambling of letters in the nickname to come up with the Miami Hate, which is as good a description as any regarding the reaction the Heat generated almost everywhere they went on the road during the regular season.

LeBron James knows the margin for error shrinks as the games get bigger. (Getty Images)  
LeBron James knows the margin for error shrinks as the games get bigger. (Getty Images)  
They shouldn't have expected anything else, really, after having brought in free-agent headliners LeBron James and Chris Bosh, among others, to join Dwyane Wade ... and then celebrating the haul with a preening party in their AmericanAirlines Arena home before having so much as played a game. What? James' exercise in ego -- announcing his intention to jilt Cleveland in favor of Miami on national television -- wasn't insulting enough?

Anyway, the Heat's collective arrogance invited the nasty receptions they received from coast to coast, and let's just guess things ain't going to quiet down in whatever joints they might visit during the postseason tournament.

Miami, as the second-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, meets No. 7 Philadelphia in the first round. A survival of that series likely would produce a second-round date with Boston.

No sense getting any further ahead of ourselves than that.

The Heat used the regular season as something of an experiment as they went from being D-Wade and the Wadettes to incorporating James and Bosh into a star-spangled mix. The process was complicated early by an injury to tough-guy Udonis Haslem, who's still missing and whose absence forced the Heat to recalibrate themselves to a greater extent than head coach Erik Spoelstra ever imagined would be necessary.

"We didn't have a lot of time with our core group," Spoelstra said.

True enough.

But the Heat sure took a long time to get comfortable in their own skin even as Wade, James, Bosh and a nondescript supporting cast acclimated themselves to each other. A 9-8 start begat a 21-1 run, which begat a 1-5 stumble, which begat an 11-1 push, which begat a 1-6 slump, which begat a 15-3 finish. There was precious little consistency of performance.

A lack of sustainability is what business geniuses call it.

Lately, except for a Sunday afternoon home win against Boston, Miami seemed disinterested as the regular season played out even with the second-place seeding at stake.

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"How many games do we have left?" Wade asked at one point. "When do we get to the playoffs? Bring 'em on, please."

Spoelstra once wrote these words on a greaseboard in the Heat locker room before a late-season home game: Don't Be Bored.

Miami promptly lost to Milwaukee.

"Doesn't matter," James decided.

And perhaps he was right, because the playoffs are the sole standard by which the best teams are measured. Team president Pat Riley didn't assemble the Wade-James-Bosh triumvirate with the notion that its zenith would occur during the regular season. Not even a 60- or 70-win campaign would have changed anything.

It's time Miami shows up instead of just showing off.

The Heat have been less than successful against the two Eastern Conference teams -- Chicago and Boston -- posing the most significant obstacles to a berth in the NBA Finals. Miami lost all three times it played the Bulls and three of four times it played the Celtics.

But the payment now due on Riley's work is a title. The harsh reality is that anything less would be a Miami failure, because it was James himself who started counting potential trophies upon his South Florida introduction. Remember the "one, two, three" tease James offered on his way to, what was it, seven?

The adoration afforded Wade in these parts during his own free-agency dance as he weighed his Chicago roots against staying in Miami was stunning.

The attention afforded the courtship of James, in particular, was ridiculous.

They frequently echoed each other's sentiments last summer with variations of a single theme.

"This is about winning multiple championships," was the mantra.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

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